PHOENIX — Lon Babby wants the Phoenix Suns to be an elite team.
To him, that defines a squad “that’s going to legitimately compete for championships every year.”
“That’s what we aspire to, that’s what we work towards every single day that we’re here,” he said.
In actuality, the Suns are a .500 team after consecutive seasons in which they missed the playoffs with a combined record two games below that mark.
So the billion dollar question is, how do the Suns transform from a perfectly mediocre team with a 38-year-old star to a team that can “legitimately compete for championships,” as they did during the SSOL era?
If I had that answer I would probably be working in the Suns’ front office rather than running a Suns blog, but I can report that during an hour-long chat with the media on Wednesday Babby laid out his vision predicated on patience and making smart decisions to build the Suns “brick by brick” into the aforementioned powerhouse.
The most important point Babby made is that the Suns won’t rush into bad deals just to make a splash because they have money to spend. Or in other words, they will do the exact opposite of the Summer of 2010 post-Amare.
“We have cap space, but cap space doesn’t mean you’re going to go out and sign free agents,” said Babby, whose team has just over $30 million in commitments for next season. “It could also mean that we’re going to make one-sided trades, and there’s a distinct possibility we don’t use our cap room this summer because we’ve worked hard to put ourselves in this position to have this kind of flexibility, to have a range of opportunities, but I am absolutely determined that we’re going to be disciplined in how we approach this because we cannot get ourselves right back in the same spot that we were in by doing bad contracts, not assessing value properly, not making the right choices in terms of personnel.”
Babby later went on to say, “We’re not on any artificial time frame. If the opportunities are there, we’re going to seize them, but we’re going to make decisions that we feel are going to put us in position to be elite, which again is about competing every year for a championship. I’m not interested in patching it up and getting good for a year or even two without making progress. It may be that we make the decision that we kind of do a little bit of what we did last year and wait a year and keep our powder dry and be as competitive as we can be. We’ll see how that plays out. We have to make the decisions from the standpoint of not only what’s good for us today but what’s going to be good for us tomorrow.”
I can already foresee some of the objections in the comments about this being “just another way for the Suns to be cheap,” but personally I could not agree more with this line of thinking.
We learned in the Summer of Amare what happens when you rush into decisions and make moves just because you have money. All of a sudden you end up with Turkoglu, Warrick, Childress and Frye at bloated numbers.
The Suns will do their due diligence, and if they can add that star power then they will. However, a quick glance at the list of free agents this summer will tell you how unlikely that is.
Babby reiterated’s demand that the Suns’ biggest need is “another dynamic weapon on offense wherever that might be whether it’s at the wing or down low.” This has been an issue since Amare left, and until the Suns find such an offense player to pair with Nash it’s hard to see them getting too much closer to elite status.
Eric Gordon is the one dynamic offensive player who could be available through restricted free agency, and based on the fact that Alvin Gentry has often gone out of his way to heap praise on Gordon in the past, I fully expect the Suns to pursue the Hornets’ guard, as well they should.
But the biggest mistake the Suns could make is to strike out with guys like Gordon and Nicolas Batum (who isn’t leaving Portland I wouldn’t imagine) and then tossing dollars at the next, as Babby clearly understands.
“Look, I’ve taken advantage of this situation as an agent,” Babby said. “When you’ve got a team that can’t get what they want, can’t get their first choice, and the pressure builds to do something you get teams to make some very bad decisions, and we’re not going to do that because I’m not going to sell false hope.”
After pointing out how much the Suns’ players said they enjoyed playing in Phoenix during their exit interviews, Babby also addressed “some skepticism about our ability to attract free agents, which I was an agent, and I don’t get it why anyone wouldn’t want to play here and I don’t believe for one minute that they don’t want to play here.”
We will soon find out, and if nobody wants to play here and nothing else works out then the Suns will duplicate their 2011-12 strategy and sign one-year deals to delay their cap bonanza for another offseason.
In the meantime the Suns will take advantage of all the other potential options for teams with cap space, which includes making lopsided trades with teams desperate to dump money and potentially even winning an amnesty auction.
Whereas during the crucial summer two seasons ago the Suns seemed to enter without a plan once Amare fled and flung their money around recklessly, this time they know exactly how they want to fill their cap room if not the specifics.
The NBA is a star’s league, and a glance at the current elite teams (think Miami, Chicago, OKC, San Antonio, the Lakers) shows multiple stars at the top for each squad.
That the Suns plan on being fiscally responsible and taking their time to make smart, savvy moves is fantastic, but along the way they must add another dynamic player to depart the treadmill of mediocrity and accelerate their return to the ranks of the elite.
Along with his comments on Steve Nash’s situation that Zim wrote about yesterday, Babby discussed the following potential personnel moves:
- It is “quite likely, if not certain” that the Suns will match any offer to restricted free agent . It kind of sounded like he was trying to send a message through the media to scare off other teams from making an attractive offer to Robin, so I would not be surprised if this becomes less certain once an offer reaches a certain threshold.
- The team will extend a qualifying offer to to preserve his rights. He cannot be dealt in a sign-and-trade because he wasn’t on the roster last season.
- Babby would be “disappointed” if wore another team’s uniform, but he was fairly confident that if Hill does not retire he will be wearing purple and orange next fall.
- The Suns will consider using the amnesty clause if it helps them make a corresponding advantageous move. If they end up saving their powder for next offseason, it would make sense to save it for Childress down the road at that point.